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Dazzling Display: UC Students and Faculty Create Giant Musical Playground for LUMENOCITY

UC design students and faculty have created a large-scale, interactive musical playground as part of LUMENOCITY Aug. 5-7.

Date: 8/3/2016 12:00:00 AM
By: Melanie Schefft
Phone: (513) 556-5213
Other Contact: M.B. Reilly
Other Contact Phone: (513) 556-1824
Photos By: provided by Matt Wizinsky

UC ingot   One part of this weekend's LUMENOCITY will serve as a musical playscape as designed by faculty and students from the University of Cincinnati's College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP).

Those stepping into what its creators have titled "Instrument 112" located in the open space in Procter & Gamble Plaza will get the chance to play -- both in the sense of  controlling sound and in just having fun -- as part of an otherworldly kaleidoscope experience of light and sound.
CLose-up of a person's shoes covered with colored spots of lights in an interactive light show.
Patterns of colorful lights respond to movement inside the Instrument 112 interactive space

That's because visitors walking, playing, or dancing through these spaces will activate a vibrant musical and visual experience.

The installation is the brainchild of Matt Wizinsky, assistant professor of graphic communication design at UC. The overall work is a responsive ballet of color, lights and hypnotic tones that will follow players around and change pitch as they move.

“As individuals move through these spaces, they will be struck with audio and light feedback projected down onto their bodies,” says Wizinsky. “One zone is like a giant drum sequencer. Some more musically inclined visitors will probably discover that they can read the visual cues and control the musical notes by stepping on paving stones like a game or musical instrument.

“These basic shapes are ‘visual affordances.’ You step on and off them to play it.”

As part of the fourth and final community festival and concert presented by the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra (CSO), Aug. 5-7, the surreal experience will be among the LUMENOCITY: RE-IMAGINE Block Party events –– designed to offer interactive, family-friendly art experiences –– to entertain guests along Fifth Street in the Procter & Gamble (P&G) Plaza.

Moving from Washington Park to inside the Taft Theatre this year, LUMENOCITY will be projected inside the theatre while a simultaneous free Block Party of interactive light-show installations will go on outside.

Two women arrange string attached to the wall and floor as part of a design project.
Students work on a design strategy for the DAAP Instrument 112 interactive project

“Lightborne Communications and the CSO contacted me to engage the School of Design in creating an experience that would activate the Block Party and truly transform the space,” says Wizinsky. “I joined forces with Peter Chamberlain of our industrial design program, and we began with a fast-paced workshop.”

The process generated innovative ideas from a mix of DAAP students, including UC alumna Chi Thorsen, as well as a former student from Wizinsky’s tenure at the University of Illinois, Chicago. It was this successful collaboration that Wizinsky credits for the resulting interactive experience.

“We designed an installation that will use the central space in the P&G Plaza with two distinctive zones that share a language but operate with very different behaviors,” says Wizinsky. “Each zone inside the installation will transform space and body movements into dream-like sounds in daylight hours.”

But after the sun goes down, Wizinsky says a cluster of illuminated designs will come to life against the contrast of the dark skies.

As folks cross over from one zone to the other, Wizinsky says it will be like stepping into another world where shapes and sounds follow your movements.

A man points to a sketch on a wall of a design grid.
Assistant Professor Matt Wizinsky explains the grid process for both zones within the Instrument 112 interactive space project

Here, the same geometric shapes of light continue to drift about aimlessly in a collective pattern, but as soon as a person enters, he says the drifting shapes will attract to them, circling and triggering melodic audio sounds with the rhythm and motion of their movements.

“A single person can control the rhythm of melodic tones and motion of the clustered shapes as they continuously move with you,” says Wizinsky. “But when a second or third person enters the space, it livens things up a bit. A separate audio track will attach to each person with their own shapes, creating a harmony of sounds and patterns as the players move around –– either working together or against each other”

He says the idea behind the two different models is that you can control your own experience. To one person, the swirling sounds and shapes will feel like you are flying through space through a meteor shower, while others may experience it more like a retro video game.

“We also decided it had to be very conducive to selfies, one of the most important things for a contemporary installation,” says Wizinsky. “So we are promoting our hashtag #Instrument112 [named for the 112 unique positions within the software grid for both zones] as the official tag for our piece so we can collect fun and creative selfie images.”

Method behind the madness

Accomplishing this complex interplay of light, audio and touch-activated technology was no small feat. Wizinsky’s team built a vertical 15-foot downward camera projection setup using two 3-D depth-sensing cameras like the ones video gamers use. Above each zone, a Kinect camera tracks the movement of a human inside a computerized grid unit that represents the bricked squares in the plaza space.

“We integrated the Kinect camera with an open-source programming language, called Processing, and gauged it to read human movements over the invisible grid through the camera, allowing the software to respond with sounds and light,” Wizinsky explains. “And the valuable experience working with different codes and models was successful for teaching students how to create these things when future projects like this come up.”

Wizinsky notes Instrument 112 provided the opportunity for students to generate and present their valuable ideas to the CSO, ultimately securing the space in P&G’s plaza. Such presentations enhance students’ collaborative communication skills needed to be able work in any kind of design environment.

While DAAP’s interaction design courses are typically focused on screen-based interactivity and some industrial design courses work with lighting, this kind of work doesn’t fit neatly into the typical UC design curriculum. However, it does present some new opportunities for similar collaborations in the future.

Because of these efforts, Wizinsky hopes to build an interdisciplinary collaborative space for students –– regardless of their discipline –– to come together and learn how to work with hardware, software, sensors and camera-based interfaces to grow and enhance their creative opportunities. As an alum of the DAAP graphic design program himself, he hopes to bridge the excellent teaching methods he experienced with even better high-tech pedagogy.

“By producing an outdoor installation for the free Block Party, we hope to offer something fantastic for all visitors –– whether or not they have tickets to the show,” says Wizinsky. “Our team worked hard to design something unique that would connect with the crowd and the spirit of what LUMENOCITY was and what it is now.”

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